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GOVA Transit advertising standards updated in wake of controversy

The city has come under criticism in recent years for allowing anti-abortion advertisements on GOVA Transit buses that feature a full-term infant and the words, ‘Take my hand, not my life...’
An anti-abortion sign is seen on a GOVA Transit bus in 2021, which was purchased by the Sudbury Right to Life organization.

An anti-abortion transit bus advertisement that caused a local outcry three years ago would likely be rejected under what appears to be a new set of standards for the city’s transit service. 

The city came under fire in 2021 for an advertisement seen on the side of a GOVA Transit bus featuring the image of an infant and the words, “Take my hand, not my life...” paid for by the Sudbury Right to Life organization.

At the time, the City of Greater Sudbury declined an interview request with, and issued a written statement instead stating, “Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the City cannot refuse or remove advertising, provided the ad content complies with the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.”

Critics responded to the city’s inaction by creating the Sudbury Pro-Choice Coalition, which began fundraising to install pro-choice billboards in the city.

Now, it appears the city has changed course.

At least, according to a recent request for proposals (RFP) posted to the city’s website for transit advertising services.

Within the RFP’s deliverables is a list of advertisements the city will not accept.

A clause that might prevent an anti-abortion advertisement from appearing on GOVA Transit buses is their denial of anything that “is likely to cause widespread offence.”

“Widespread offence” is not specifically defined, but a 2023 Ispos poll revealed eight in 10 Canadian women express strong support for a choice of abortion methods to be available and accessible to all, indicating widespread disagreement with the anti-abortion political message the Sudbury Right to Life organization appears to endorse with their advertisement, which could fall under the “likely to cause widespread offence” clause.

Although the RFP includes a list of advertisements the city will reject, they also keep its wording open to turn down any advertisements at the city’s discretion.

“Nothing contained herein shall limit the city’s right to reject any advertisement at any time,” according to the RFP document.

In the city’s 2021 written statement to regarding the anti-abortion ad, they blamed the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards for the advertisements that appear on buses and encouraged residents to contact Advertising Standards Canada with their complaints.

Once the new RFP for transit advertising services is awarded, the city will no longer be able to shirk this responsibility.

Although the recently released RFP document also leans on the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, it also clarifies that these standards are “in addition to the guidelines and restrictions” the city outlines in the RFP, including the city’s right of refusal for any reason.

The new GOVA Transit advertising standards apply to conventional transit buses, transit shelters and pedestrian benches. 

Included in the list of advertisements the city will not accept are those from organizations whose reputation “could prove detrimental to the city’s public image” and/or whose main business is derived from:

  • The sale of tobacco or other addictive substances.
  • Vaping and/or vaping-related products
  • Pornography
  • The support of or involvement in the production, distribution and sale of weapons, as well as other life-threatening products

Advertising will not be permitting which, either directly or through third-party arrangements:

  • Violates any city policy
  • Conveys a negative religious message that might be deemed prejudicial to religious groups
  • Promotes alcohol and other addictive substances
  • Presents demeaning or derogatory portrayals of individuals or groups or contain anything, which in light of generally prevailing community standards, is likely to cause widespread offence
  • Is in direct competition with CGS services, programs or initiatives

The RFP also stipulates that “under no circumstances should advertisements be route-specific.”

The city’s RFP for transit advertising services opened on Feb. 20 and will close on March 22. As of earlier this week, it had received seven plan-takers. reached out to city spokespeople regarding GOVA Transit advertising practices on Monday morning and did not receive a response by the end of the work day.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for With files from Jenny Lamothe.


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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
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